You, Me and the Apocalypse: UK & US Comic Catastrophe Gold

You, Me and the Apocalypse is a slice of UK and US gold, or perhaps platinum, a comic look at a catastrophe of biblical proportions.

You, Me and the Apocalypse - Season 1

You, Me and the Apocalypse is a slice of UK and US gold, or perhaps platinum, a comic look at a catastrophe of biblical proportions.  Akin to the theme behind Armageddon and other films where a giant meteor, or in this case a comet, is on a collision course with the Earth and mankind is doomed, the series veers off course from the science fiction “saving of mankind” and instead focusses on a small group of survivors.

The series aired first in the UK and had, presumably, been altered, re-made, re-imagined (insert word of choice here) along the lines of Broadchurch (UK) and Gracepoint (US) over on the FOX network. It does seem to be an amalgamation of the original as it appears that all the main characters are in this NBC version.  There is, at this point, at least one name missing from the 2016 credits; Dame Diana Rigg, who plays “Sutton” in the “English” version.

The premiere is narrated by Brit actor/writer Mathew Baynton who plays twins; one evil hacker; Ariel and  the other, a bit of a Milquetoast type,  Jamie;  a bank manager.  Baynton, who looks like a real-life version of the cartoon “Roger” from the Disney animated film 101 Dalmatians, is seen first as the comet is just moments away from destroying all. Sitting in an underground bunker under Slough (Why Slough is not revealed in the first episode)  he is pondering why the 14 people  with him are there.

Rob Lowe plays the literal Devil’s Advocate; Father Jude Sutton, and the man is a foul mouthed and aggressive priest whose job is to sully potential saints. Jenna Fischer is Rhonda; a librarian and mother, who takes the rap for her son, a young man who hacked the NSA, and  she is in prison waiting to go on trial for treason. 

Megan Mullally is the white supremacist who takes Rhonda under her tattooed wing and (personal favorite) Pauline Quirk plays Jamie’s mum, who has a bit of a secret that has serious ramifications for her son. Newcomer Gaia Scodellaro plays Sister Celine, who ends up working for Jude just as the world is about to end. 

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Gaia Scodellaro as Sister Celine Leonti, Rob Lowe as Father Jude Sutton

The series has been called a dramedy by some but is, in reality, just rather heavy in British humour.  You, Me and the Apocalypse is a bit of brilliant comedy that is not afraid to mix what feels like real human behavior; mass panic and looting (in Rome no less) and how everyday things just stop once the news of the comet is made public.

Rob Lowe, who has been “grinding” on another NBC comedy, proves that  his comic timing and deft touch are a good fit in any role. In all honesty, it is Lowe’s delivery that makes each utterance a golden comic gem. During the Sister Celine interview he asks the potential assistant:

“Let me ask you, do you find the phrase “Christ on a bike” offensive?”

Pauline Quirk, after portraying a very different character in the seaside murder mystery Broadchurch steps back into light comic mode as Jamie’s mother and is, as usual, a delight to watch.  Scodellaro is touching as the naive Sister who decides that she will work for the Devil’s Advocate after all.  Sister Celine also has a few amusing lines, not least of which is her amazement at discovering that there really is a Devil’s Advocate:

Father Jude: “So, tell me what you know about the Devil’s Advocate”

Sister Celine:  “Honestly, nothing. I thought it was a figure of speech until I saw your door.”

The entire premiere is full of moments like the above interchange.  Odd, quirky, funny and all set against the end of the world…via comet.

While a lot of the gags are English versus American, they still work and the ones that may not translate well do not really matter. For instance, the “White Horse” that the police believe bank manager Jamie to be is the logo, or was for years, of Lloyd’s Bank…clever, eh?

You, Me and the Apocalypse - Season 1
Jenna Fischer as Rhonda McNeil aka Noob…

Jenna Fischer (The Office, Slither) is great as the woman so far out of her depth who is rescued by the real White Horse because of her “hacking skills.” Baynton is excellent as the almost OCD chap who relies upon his tedious routines to keep his life in check after his new bride; Layla (Karla Crome) disappears in the airport at the end of their honeymoon.

Thus far this UK and US comic offering looks fun and that little bit different. From an irreverential look at the clergy to the meltdown of society by the mainstream populace, the series takes catastrophe and makes it funny amid the chaos.

You, Me and the Apocalypse could just be the icing on Rob Lowe’s cake, proving that he can do much more than be The Grinder on NBC (Although in essence he has already since this series was on UK telly first.) The series airs Thursdays on NBC and all that remains is for Dame Diana Rigg to show up and make this series perfect.

Tune in for the end of the world chaos and the show’s quirkiness and stay for the comedy.

The X Files: My Struggle and Founder’s Mutation – A Slow Burn Start (Review)

Mulder and Scully are back, treating The X Files fans to a slow burn start versus rocket ride back into the world of the weird, wonderful and conspiratorial.

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Mulder and Scully are back, treating The X Files fans to a slow burn start versus rocket ride back into the world of the weird, wonderful and conspiratorial. Episode one of the two part pilot for season 10; My Struggle, reminds us that it is Fox’ obsession with UFOs, governmental coverups and that burning need to know. Founder’s Mutation steps forward at a snail’s pace and takes us back into “Toomy” land.

Granted, the second half of the two part open is not as disturbing, or downright creepy, as Toomy’s tale, it reaches back into the yesteryear propensity of Chris Carter, and now James Wong as well, to lead the viewer by the nose to whatever odd thing comes up next.

The latter episode also puts Dana and Fox into the world where they belong.  Sure Scully turned her back on much more than just her old partner, and father of her child, heading on a path where she did a lot of good. Regardless of her samaritan standing in the medical community, the ties between her and Fox had not been completely severed.

After all, only she knows how to get in touch with Mulder, something she points out when Skinner tried unsuccessfully to call Fox regarding “scare monger” newsman Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale).  Tad, who Mulder feels is an alternative Bill O’Reilly (surely the name similarity is no coincidence…) promises to have information that will change everything and O’Malley swears that he will reveal all.

Tad’s rant about the secret agenda of the American government, militarizing local police, fattening and dumbing down the denizens of the country and erecting prison camps.

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Fox and Skinner

Like the previous seasons, before the show’s long hiatus, the message in episode one, My Struggle, is this:

Do not trust the government. They do not have your best interest at heart and they lie.

Mulder believes this with all his essence and Scully continues to be in a form of denial.  The counterbalance of the two is back in place, her pragmatic and agnostic attitude about the unexplained still tempers her behavior and belief system. Fox, who suffers from depression, is in full “survivalist” costume in the first opening segment.

Unshaven, wearing jeans and a combat fatigue jacket, Mulder looks similar to every other Area 51 conspiracy junkie out there. Scully is the very picture of respectability and has trouble getting back, as does Fox, into the swing of things.

My Struggle starts as a history lesson; Roswell, an injured alien (murder of same), questionable DNA and those decades old conspiracies.  It also entails a young woman with scoop scars on her abdomen, a string of abductions and stolen fetuses, She is convinced her DNA has been added to and after the “men in black” learn of what O’Mallory, Mulder and Scully have been up to, they clean house…

With extreme prejudice.

The first episode ends with the Smoking Man (William B. Davis), face covered with scar tissue and looking like death personified, smoking his cigarette via the hole in his neck and stating that the X Files have been reopened. 

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William B Davis returns as the Smoking Man…

Founder’s Mutation shoves a badge back into the duo’s hands and starts going into a true X File non-UFO-type case. Although the entire episode is focussed on another conspiracy; one that ties in to episode one, to huge degree, with a storyline dealing with experiments on children and a brother and sister with special abilities.

By the second episode, Mulder has cleaned up and lost the scruff. Scully learns that like the doomed Sveta she too has alien DNA. Dana also steps back into the role of medical expert, performing the autopsy on the show’s suicide victim.

The mind control aspect is disturbing, as is the manner of the first man’s death. It also features a “mad scientist” type (Damon) who meets a fitting end…

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Death by letter opener.

As the two part premiere ended, each of the duo were back in their old shoes and leading us back into the world of The X Files.  

A number of familiar faces joined the premiere as guest stars (and it was brilliant to see Mitch Pileggi back as Skinner). Joel McHale from Community, Christine Willes from Dead Like Me (As Dolores Herbig with the “big  brown eyes.”), Doug Savant from Desperate Housewives and Vik Sahay

There were a number of other notable appearances by names well known in the industry, for example, Rance Howard (father of Ron and Clint) also shows up in the credit list.  The appearance of so many known performers signals an acceptance of Carter’s world back into the fold of television.

The X Files, with its slow re-emergence, has not pleased all the television critics but fans are excited, and so they should be. Sure the dynamic between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson may feel a little clunky but the chemistry is still there. Fox and Scully still have the bond that made them work so well together.

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Mulder and Scully…

The series airs Mondays on FOX.  Tune in for some nostalgic vibes as well as superb television and watch the new tales of The X Files unfold.

Shades of Blue: Shades of Irony (Review)

For a new series “written on spec” by Adi Hasak, Shades of Blue is not bad. The pilot could be referred to as “Shades of Irony,” as Hasak’s opening salvo ladles the irony on pretty heavily.

Shades of Blue - Season 1

For a new series “written on spec” by Adi Hasak, Shades of Blue is not bad. The pilot could be referred to as “Shades of Irony,” as Hasak’s opening salvo ladles the irony on pretty heavily. Starring Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta, “Blue” is about “crooked” cops who do so for the “greater good.”

And the extra money for things like putting your only child through an expensive school.

From the very start we learn that not only does Harlee Santos (Lopez) think fast on her feet, the cop never hesitates to falsify a crime scene. Granted she does this  to protect her rookie partner Michael Loman (Dayo Okeniyi) but Santos never misses a beat in setting up a scenario that will clear her partner of murder.

First Ironic Moment:

As Santos urges a young girl away from the apartment that she and her partner are about to enter, two shots are heard behind the closed door. Loman is heard to kick in the door and fire twice. Harlee comes in and finds a dead man on the sofa, with an Xbox controller slipping from his lifeless hand.

Immediately the senior cop starts explaining “what happened.” As she finds a gun, that was in a bag with heroin on a coffee table, Santos sets up the “scene” and shoots Loman with no warning.

The irony is pretty heavy in this first set up. A lesson to would-be heroin dealers, do not play a First Person Shooter on your Xbox with the volume cranked to top decibels.  As the two cops survey the room, and the newly dead guy on the sofa, the game states:

“You’re dead. You’re dead. You’re dead.”

The script tries to be topical and modern.  Santos is seen at the start doing a video diary entry where she begins the pilot explaining how things went wrong.  Very modern day and this does beat the old fashioned “voice over” narrative of most shows.

As one reviewer mentioned, this is not new territory. Michael Chiklis and his gang of cops broached  similar legal issues  in The Shield (2002 – 2008). More recently, on TNT, Public Morals, a personal project that  Edward Burns created and starred in, was a period cop piece where a lot of 1960s police officers walked that fine line for “the greater good,” aka controlled chaos on the streets.

Granted, neither of the aforementioned cop shows had Jennifer Lopez or Ray Liotta. Both these stars are returning to their television roots for this NBC police drama.  Both Ray and Jennifer started on TV and each have returned occasionally.

Back to the pilot of Shades of Blue,  an enormous amount of irony is evident in the first hour of this new series. Santos gets a guilt-ridden Loman through his first accidental shooting only to be caught out by an FBI sting operation. (Technically this could count as “ironic moment number two, but hey ho.) To further complicate the implications of being “owned” by the FBI,  Santos’ boss, Matt “Woz”  Wozniack (Liotta) takes out the dead man’s partner to save his “family” member Harlee.

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Harlee Santos (Lopez) going for the “save” and failing

Second Ironic Moment:

Once Harlee agrees to set up her boss Woz, he then turns over the “loose end” of Earl, who knows that Michael Loman killed his drug partner, to the drug pusher that he, Wozniack controls. Woz tells Earl, before letting him out to meet his death:

“For the greater good Earl. I protect and serve it.”

Sidenote: It has to be noted that after repeated viewing of the second of the Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg cornetto trilogy; “Hot Fuzz,” the phrase “the greater good” always manages to evoke a chuckle or two.

Once again, irony rears its omnipresent head as we see Woz protecting the woman who is now working as a “rat” for the feds. (A scene later has Harlee’s boss excitedly revealing that he knows there is a rat in his group and he is not happy.)

Third Ironic Moment:

After yelling that he needs to kill the rat, Woz tells Santos that he wants her to help as:

“You’re the only one I trust.”

To be fair to show creator Hasak, and to NBC, this is a storyline that has been around for years. From Joseph Wambaugh’s many tales of cops and their various peccadilloes  to ensemble pieces like Hill Street Blues, television is full of cops who walk that line, some more than others.

In this new series we have a familial type of cop group where all “work” the street to keep drugs away from the schools and to keep juvenile and violent crime stats down.  On top of this “doing good for the community” there are the requisite paybacks and under-the-table bribes that enable the police under Woz’s leadership to improve their lot in life.

Lopez is good in this small screen exercise in irony. Shades of Blue may have the star looking a little too glam, but hey, this is Jenny From the Block.  Even without makeup and a more “realistic” hairdo, Lopez is going to look “high end.”

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Liotta kills it.

The rest of the cast are capable and manage to impress in varying degrees, despite some not having a lot of screen time. Sarah Jeffery (who just recently impressed in ABCs Wayward Pines) plays Harlee’s daughter Cristina and she impresses in this series as well. Warren Kole is the FBI agent who pulls Harlee’s strings and Dayo Okeniyi is Michael Loman, who Harlee helps out and Drea de Matteo is Tess Nazario, a fellow cop who believes her husband is cheating on her. 

This new crime drama looks to be pretty interesting, at least on par with other shows on offer at the moment. Shades of Blue is more focussed on what it wants to be than, say, Quantico and while the storyline may not be overly original, it does have at least one powerhouse actor (Liotta) in the cast.

The series airs Thursdays on NBC and if the pilot is anything to go by, it will be entertaining and chock full of irony.

Superstore: The Office with America Ferrera

The fact that the new NBC comedy Superstore is basically The Office, but with America Ferrera and set in a “big box” outlet is not surprising.

Superstore - Season 1

The fact that the new NBC comedy Superstore is basically The Office, but with America Ferrera and set in a “big box” outlet is not surprising. The show’s creator Justin Spritzer worked on the 2005 American version of Ricky Gervais’ awkward comedic show as story editor and producer.  The Gervais original was brilliant at those awkward interactions between the weird and wonderful colleagues in that workplace environment.

According to all reports the American The Office was equally adept at provoking those “cringe-worthy” moments that Gervais did so well.  While Superstore is not quite as unique, it is funny.  Not looking through your fingers while laughing guiltily, and more than a bit hysterically funny, but close.

Having missed the beginning of the series, a brief spot of binge watching was required to catch up on the Superstore.  Each of the half-hour episodes were chuckle-worthy, even without a live audience, or thankfully a laugh-track, and by the fourth one the series was outright hysterical.

Episode four also had that first “cringe” moment. When Justin buys a sex-doll that he thinks looks like Amy.

Superstore - Season Pilot
Mannequin Justin and the real Justin (Ben Feldman)

America Ferrera proves that she does not need “Ugly Betty” to be funny.  She stars as floor supervisor Amy who new employee Justin (Ben Feldman) manages to annoy on his very first day.  These two have a great chemistry together with the series immediately putting them into a “will they/won’t they” dynamic.

Later in the fourth episode, disabled employee Garrett (Colton Dunn), aka the “cool one” points out that Amy is having a “work flirt” with Justin, and when she believes that Justin has worked this out, she gets flustered. 

Essentially The Office set in the world of K-Mart, WalMart, Target, et al, the “shenanigans” of a discount shopping store, aka Superstore do not really match up to the intricacies of the white collar comedy set up by Gervais originally, and then adapted for the American market later.

However…

Superstore is funny, despite relying a bit too much on stereotypes. Example: Store manager is a social inept and overly religious buffoon – Glenn (played with toe-curling sincerity by Mark McKinney) , another floor supervisor with an immediate crush on Justin, Dina (brought to brilliant life by the superb Lauren Ash) and the other new employee, Mateo; an annoying sycophant wannabe (played annoyingly by Nico Santos).

Superstore - Season 1
Justin and Dina (Ben Feldman and Lauren Ash)

Superstore is, if anything, more applicable to a wider audience demographic. While The Office did pander to office white collar workers the world over, this version, set in the “big box store” world that many have passed through as employees, or indeed customers, should tickle even more funny bones.

Each episode thus far has managed to look at the minefield that makes up the workplace of the new millennium.  Ben Feldman is brilliant as the new guy who just does not quite fit. His Justin already realizes that he can have fun, check out the trolley (shopping cart) race with the manager Glenn and Garrett, and that he really likes Amy, but he misses on the group dynamic.

It may well be that Superstore does use stereotypes a great deal, as did The Office, but both shows do so go great comedic effect.  So far, at four episodes in, Ferrera is proving that comedy is her forte and that she and Feldman have a great give and take as Amy and Justin.

This new comedy does have an “almost” ensemble feel, with a core set of characters; the pregnant teen, the Latina floor supervisor, the ineffectual outlet manager, the two new employees, one a nebbish yes man and the other the good looking younger man and the store “crush.”  Not to  forget the cool employee Garrett.

Superstore does  utilize stereotypes, but there has been an attempt to give a little depth to the characters. Ferrera’s “responsible” supervisor takes off her wedding ring when at work and was a teen mother.  In one episode Amy  speaks about the sameness of her days; 10 year’s worth, while looking at glow-in-the-dark sticky stars. Justin, in an attempt to prove his “American Beauty” quote, placed them on the ceiling.

The payoff comes when the very pregnant Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom) is serenaded by her “thug” boyfriend and Dina turns off the store’s lights.  A little gem, hidden in the comedic offering of Spritzer and co. 

Superstore - Season 1
America Ferrera, Mark McKinney and Nico Santos

Superstore airs Mondays on NBC and is splendid comedy of the “more normal” absurd. A world populated with mannequins that look like employees and a store manager who is not above racing his employees in a shopping cart. Tune in and marvel at the comedic talents of the cast and have a giggle at the storylines and gags.

 

Colony: New/Old Dystopian Dictatorship (Review)

USA network has gone for a new “old” story of occupation by a mysterious superior force that plunges residents into a dystopian society in Colony.

Colony - Pilot

USA network has gone for a new “old” story of occupation by a mysterious superior force that plunges residents into a dystopian society in Colony. Show creators Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Ryan Condal (Hercules) looked at occupied Paris during the second world war and asked how modern families and the average person would react to a new version of Nazi control.  In this instance, the controlling faction are mysterious in origin, the viewer has no idea where the “hosts’ come from or who, or what, they are.

The pilot takes place after the new hosts have taken over. Los Angeles is surrounded by an insurmountable wall and we meet the series protagonist, Will “Sullivan” aka Bowman, who  was an FBI agent before the occupation.  Like other law enforcement officials, Bowman changed his name and went “off the grid” after the new government was put into place by the suppressors.

Like the people of France, or indeed like the oppressed people from the director’s pervious home of Argentina in the 1970s, the show asks a number of questions. How far would you go to protect your family? Would you put your family’s safety over that of your fellow man? More importantly, would you be a collaborator or join the resistance?

Colony, in the pilot makes it pretty clear that modern man in the greater Los Angeles is pretty resilient. The blackmarket is alive and well. The barter system is used to purchase many things, including substandard insulin, which the new hosts deem unnecessary in an attempt to weed out the weak.

Will Bowman (Sullivan) is played by another Lost alumnus, Josh Holloway.  Working as a mechanic, Josh’s character is struggling to maintain an air of normalcy for his segmented family. He risks it all to find the son that was caught outside the city when the new hosts invaded and took over. 

Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) is Will’s wife Katie, who appears to be equally capable and as tough as her ex-cop husband. The two have a splendid chemistry together, as do the two child actors who play their children.

The walled in city is patrolled by drones and a militaristic police force called “red hats.” Colony’s denizens face a life of fear, control, curfews, and being sent to “the factory.” Collaborators enjoy special privileges, in a way quite similar to the “elite” in “Soylent Green, just not quite so extreme.

The pilot looks interesting enough to warrant a longer look, i.e. checking out further episodes to see where this story will go. Colony could be seen as a modern morality tale based upon historical fact.

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Josh Holloway – Will Bowman

A strong cast, along with a disturbing present day feel, makes this an interesting offering.  LA looks no different from what one might see while driving down to the local shop. Except, fences are topped with razor wire and the city itself is surrounded by a huge, shiny wall. Movement between blocs is strictly controlled and the new regime are hunting constantly to find members of the resistance.

The series will premiere January 14, 2016 on USA. Tune in and see what the world could be like under a non-benevolent dictatorship of mysterious hosts.